Spicy Food and Wine Pairing

Fermented Bean Curd

What can I pair with fermented bean curd, star of anise and fresno chilis?

French, Spanish and Italian food are easily matched with wine. But wine has been a part of their culture and cuisine for centuries. On the contrary, pairing wine with the Chinese, Mexican and Indian kitchens proves to be a little more difficult. In this post I will give you some tips on pairings for Peking duck, tacos or an Indian curry.

Many wines just don’t pair well with spicy dishes from Asia, the Middle East or Central America. Spiciness and high alcohol content found in wine don’t seem to go well together, especially when the high alcohol content leads to an increased burning sensation! Beer or cider usually pair much better; however I doubt if there is a dish we cannot combine with wine.

1. The best combination is made with wines which are fresh and crisp. The German and Alsatian varieties pair nicely with spicy food. Good choices include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Silvaner. Other whites you can try are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albariño or Verdejo from the region Rueda in northern Spain.

Sparkling and fizzy wine like champagne, cava or prosecco from Italy are also able to match the spiciness. I have a friend who reasons that you can drink champagne with everything. It’s the high acidity and the bubbles that are able to pair bubbly with almost all dishes.

Fresh and crisp wine are not merely the domain of the whites; there are some reds who can match the acidity of a good white. For example: Spanish Riojas, Italian Chiantis and old world style of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand or Oregon.

2. Another group of wine includes full wines with a lot of fruity flavours, but little tannins. American Zinfandels or Australian Shiraz, with a level of fruitiness match highly seasoned dishes. If you’re not so fond of this bold, powerful wine, try a Beaujolais Nouveaux or, if you can find it, a Joven wine from Rioja. They are refreshing and served best chilled like a rosé.

3. Avoid oaky Chardonnays, and tannic wines. Most chardonnays from the states are,  in my opinion, overly oaked: they taste oaky and are very fat and bold. These toasty flavours match poorly with the spiciness of a dish and the pairing will make the wine seem coarse and bitter. Cabernet Sauvignon and American Merlots aren’t any better. Their tannins set your mouth on fire when you combine it with chili-spiced dishes!

4. The spicier the food, the sweeter the wine.Here is my favorite companion for a spicy dish: a sweet wine, light in alcohol. The residual sugar in the wine will help to tame the burning sensation. Keep in mind: the spicier the food the sweeter the wine must be. However, Ice wine and noble late harvest wines are often so sweet that you can’t drink more than a glass or so; therefore I would save them for dessert.

As spicy asks for sweet, dry wine drinkers may feel a bit lost. There are, however, many wines to chose from. Try a medium-sweet Chardonnay with Peking duck, and a (medium) sweet Riesling from Washington or Oregon is delicious with Chinese or Thai food. My personal favorite however is a medium-sweet gewürztraminer with Indian lamb curry. And when I really have something to celebrate, I choose a sweet sparkling wine (demi-sec or doux/sweet). Give it a try, you will love it!

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One response to “Spicy Food and Wine Pairing

  1. Keep the pairing talk coming! My attempts at amature sommelierism every night can only be enhanced and improved by such professional insights!

    For the winemaker: My zin and my Cab are on target for bottling a year from now- Cab I am told (by the vineyard owner/winemaker where I gleaned my grapes) says my cab is technically drinkable even now– but will improve with age. Problem is that I’ve been so generous with the thief when company comes knocking, that I may have little left to bottle in a years time! 🙂

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